Fear vs. Freedom

Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear – Henry Ford

Avoiding risks

I grew up in a very loving, nurturing, protective environment.  My parents always encouraged us, but at the same time wanted to make sure we were protected and safe.  My father was never comfortable going on a cruise with his wife and 2 girls because he could never save us all if necessary.  Flying however was ok, because we would all go down together (we are a close-knit family).  We would get the cautious “wet road speech” every time we left the house (even if it wasn’t raining). We learned to always have a shovel, coat, blanket, flares and food in the trunk, just in case.  We learned to be ready for anything that could go wrong.

I was rarely told that I couldn’t do something, in fact I was very encouraged to dance, play sports, take music lessons, makes friends, etc.  Often times, when I asked if I could do something new, there would be a series of questions that created a foundation of doubt or fear.  “Do you really want to go on a trip with 3 of you, 3 isn’t a good number, someone typically is left out”.  What if there is an accident, how will you handle it.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a fear based approach to life and one that undermined my confidence in my early adulthood.  I would often choose the safe route rather than the risky one.  I don’t blame my parents at all and I am very appreciative of all they have done for me, but by acknowledging this it has helped me gain the confidence I needed in the future. I wanted to live freely, rather than being hampered by fear.

I always followed the rule book, excelled in classes, became the captain of the sports teams, led the marching band, worked hard and enjoyed friendships. Let’s call a spade a spade, I was an overachiever.  I soared through college, secured a job at Ernst and Young before graduation and was married at 25.  I lived the cookie cutter, white picket fence type life.  And it seemed like I had it all, until the day it changed.

When I got the call from my husband that he was leaving me, I was crushed. At 29, everything that I had known was called into question.  At that point, I knew this was the bottom. I realized that I had taken the safe, reliable choice all my life.  I did what I thought was the right thing to do, but where had that gotten me?  The floor can still fall out beneath me.  This was a pivotal moment in my life.  I could be the victim and continue to live in fear, or I could embrace the freedom and shoot for the moon. What is the worst thing that could happen?  I would have to move back with my parents. Oh yeah, that was exactly where I was currently living.

Moving On

So, I got back on my feet and moved into New York City which had always been a dream, but I never had the courage. I adopted my mantra – Out with the Old, In with the New.  I bought the SUV that I always wanted, went on holidays, I let Zagat’s Top 50 guide my dining choices.  I was definitely leaning a bit too far over my skis, but you know what? It was fun. I was enjoying life and it offset any challenges.  I was also getting the opportunity to travel for work which turned into an opportunity to move to England full time.  I loved England and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to live abroad.  I met new friends, explored Europe, learned new skills and even managed to save some money.

I lived without fear.  Why not go to Denmark for the weekend? Why not head to Greece for vacation? I am sure I had downtimes during these years, but you know what?  I don’t remember those, I remember all the positive things.  I used those memories to power the next adventure. I decided that I was going to take a sabbatical from work and travel around the world for a year. YOLO – you only live once.  Then fear was reintroduced into my life, not my own, but other people’s fear that made me stop and evaluate my decision.  This was a big step, leaving a well-established job, backpacking in countries where I didn’t know the language, being susceptible to different diseases. Did I really want to do this?

WHY not?

This is a critical question. – why Not do this?  What was the worst thing that could happen?  I would end up back on my parent’s couch?  Guess what, been there, done that.  Having a failure behind me helped me see that the worst things are not really that bad.  The good would outweigh any potential negatives. I was fortunate though, by this time I was confident of living freely and not giving into my fears.  So, off I went.  Nine months later I was back with a photo book and a lifetime of memories and new friends. Oh and yes, briefly living on my parents couch until a contract came through and I resumed my career.

Now, I think it is important to point out there is a third element which I do not subscribe to: recklessness.  I don’t let fear rule me, but I do not take extreme chances that put my life in jeopardy.  When crossing the border between Laos and Cambodia, they illegally tried to charge me $5, I didn’t resist and paid the money. Another traveler, however, was incensed that they would illegally charge her (keep in mind $5 in this part of the world equated to 5 nights lodging).  All I could think of was what they would write on my tombstone, “Here lies Kathy who saved $5 by not giving into the Laotian authorities”.

When my prior company called after 9 months of traveling and presented a great consulting opportunity, I knew it was time to come home.  The additional 3 months of travel remaining was not worth losing this opportunity.  Time to get back to work and save up again for another trip. I now use the barometer – when I am on my death bed, will I look back and say, “I wish I had done that, rather than being safe?”  I try to choose freedom when I can.

Fear vs. Freedom

The fear vs. freedom question weighed heavily on my mind when I was making the decision to leave my last position. There are the common items that come to mind and they vary based upon your experience and level of fear.  Hesitant people will ask, “how will you afford the mortgage or the insurance, what if you don’t find something right away, what if you get sick?”  The extremists will panic (they will not even ask the question because they are putting themselves into the worst possible situation immediately), “OMG you will never find another job ever again, you will lose your home, Ralph will leave you, etc.”

So, that being said, a lot of thought went into this decision and we chose freedom rather than fear (and I stress, WE, because my decisions today now affect my new husband, Ralph and me).  I realized I had become very fearful after spending 13 years at the same company.  I was no longer leaning over my skis and it was time to get back on the slopes for a great ride. This time I was fortunate to have a partner with me.  What is the worst thing that will happen, we have to move back in with my parents?!?  Been there, done that!

Final Inspiration

In keeping with the theme, I take great pride when I think back to my ‘around the world’ trip and recognize that my journey was the inspiration for my cousin to visit France, a dream of his own.  He knew if his cousin could do it, sure as hell could he.  He continues to thank me to this day. I loved that I could inspire someone else in my journey.  May this serve as an inspiration to you to choose freedom over fear where appropriate.

Excerpt from The Magician’s Way, written by William Whitecloud, “As he spoke, I could see two paths in my mind: one that appeared attractive in the beginning – broad, paved, sunny – that ultimately lead into a swamp; another that appeared at first to be unappealing – dark and narrow and overgrown – but that actually lead to an island in the sun.  Your choice of paths, I realized, determines whether you create poverty and misery or fun and profit.”

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